Art: An American Legend in Paris

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These were woven around a sense of his own modernity as an American living in the mid-20th century, the heir but not the colonized admirer of Picasso and Miró. It seems now that Pollock was eager to wind so many elements together in his work, not out of some empty eclecticism (which is what our "expressionists" give us today) but in the belief that cultural synthesis might redeem us all. How can one follow this show, from its first choked and turbulent exercises, through the grapplings with chosen masters (Picasso, Masson, Miró, Orozco) in the "totemic" and "archetypal" paintings of the 1940s, into the air and vastness of Lavender Mist or Autumn Rhythm, without seeing that Pollock's career was one of the few great models of integrating search that our fragmented culture can offer?

It does Pollock no service to idolize him. This point is that he grasped his limitations and refused to mannerize them. Thus he was by no means a natural draftsman, and his best paintings of the early '40s, like the She-Wolf or Male and Female, are set down with terrible earnest ness but with no graphic facility. When he set up a repeated frieze of drawn motifs, as in the mural he did for Peggy Guggenheim in 1943, the result—as drawing—was rather monotonous. But when he found he could throw lines of paint in the air, the laws of energy and fluid motion made up for the awkwardness of his fist and, from then on, there was no grace that he could not claim. Compared with his paintings, the myth of Pollock is of no importance at all.

—By Robert Hughes

* In fact, art lovers had to wait longer than expected; the show's public opening was delayed last week by a strike of the museum cleaning staff.

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